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Shopping and cooking tips to help save during coronavirus outbreak

These are, undoubtedly, unique times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created ripples in our lives and relationships. It hasn’t stopped the things that must keep going, but those things must happen in a different fashion, a new routine. People must still buy groceries after all, but the “what” and “how much” people buy has changed.
If you are anything like me, your grocery budget is through the roof with the change in places I have had to shop. For the health-conscious person, you still want to eat healthy but you want to reduce your trips to the store as much as possible. How do you save money and trips to the store? Here are some of my top tips to try to accomplish that while eating healthy.

Take Stock of what you’ve got.
We are several weeks in to this quarantine. I know some people initially panicked, over-purchasing grocery items, and then wondering how on earth they could spend so much money for groceries. I too, know the feeling of looking at the bottom of my receipt and thinking “I can’t keep this up.”
Don’t let the panic rule you. Before you run off to the store again to stock up some more, realize that, chances are, you have many more potential meals hiding out in your pantry and freezer than you realize! Shop your own pantry first. Make a list of your pantry and freezer items (it is spring, after all, so it is probably a good time to clean and declutter them anyway!).
There are a host of free, classy-looking printables available online that make for nice lists (although, a blank or lined piece of paper also works perfectly fine.) Once you know what you have, you can begin to decide what you want to make using what you have. In essence, shop and cook from your current supply of all food items first, before running to the store again.
Taking stock will allow you to “see” what you have and then move on to the next step.

Get creative with your list.
Now that you know what canned, dried and freezer items you have, make a list of the meals you can think you can make with them. Have some pasta and sauce you totally forgot about? Got some dried beans you can cook up and add to that lettuce, tomatoes and cheese that are going to go bad soon? You might be surprised at what delicious items you can create from what you have!
If your imagination fails you, you can even go to recipe websites like Allrecipes.com and enter a list of ingredients you have and it will effortlessly pull up recipes for you to try. Try to make enough so you have leftovers from different dishes several times a week. This will diminish the amount of cooking you have to do.
Create a grocery list based off on the things you actually need.
If your income level is unstable at present, then it’s a REALLY good idea to not over-spend for what you don’t really need at the grocery store. If you have your list of pantry and freezer stock handy, you know what things you might need to get. Instead of panicking and “buying it all,” now you can make a more informed, smarter decision that will save you money and trips to the store.
Reach for veggies that last. While lettuce and leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses, they do, unfortunately, go bad quicker than some of their cousin vegetables. Stocking up on veggies that last will make it easier to make fewer trips to the store.
These include cabbage, eggplant, celery, broccoli on the stem, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, yams and potatoes. Some of these need refrigeration (I.e. cabbage, broccoli and carrots,) while other don’t (such and the potatoes and yams). While you may wonder what on earth to do with a turnip or rutabaga, know that any such root veggie can be roasted in the oven or thrown into the air fryer, resulting in a delicious veggie with caramelization and crunch!

Don’t forget frozen veggies!
Given that the price is right and you have adequate freezer space, freezer veggies are a fantastic way to stock up on veggies that last.

Judging from my latest venture down the rice and bean aisle, I probably don’t need to make this point. People have been turning to these shelf-stable wonders! Beans and lentils are probably one the cheapest foods that can feed a crowd well while still being incredibly healthy and beneficial for blood sugar and gut health.
Beans can be made into a thousand interesting and tasty dishes including burgers, mock egg salad, chilies, burritos and soups. One of my husband’s new and surprising favorites that he created was his mock mac ‘n’ cheese. It consists of cooked garbanzo/chickpeas with salt, pepper and some melted cheese (and sometimes added olive oil) mixed into it.
My husband is a definite carnivore and prefers to eat a meal with substantial amounts of meat; however, he swears this tastes like mac ‘n’ cheese and is happy to eat just this. This chickpea version is much easier and cheaper to make than the traditional way.

Lean on Soups.
Soups can be made with, let’s face it, anything. A little liquid, seasonings, veggies and maybe meat and voila, you have soup! Soups are flexible in their flavor, ingredients and quantity. The options are endless: chicken soups, taco soups, enchilada soup, miso soup, bean soups, egg drop soup, squash soups, cream soups (although those are more expensive) or broth soups (less expensive) etc.
Instead of paying extra money at the checkout for canned or boxed soup broth, make your own. The meat section often carries “soup bones” that simply need to be boiled in a stock pot of water overnight (this can be done in the Instant Pot or slow cooker too!). Or save bones from a rotisserie chicken or roast and make broth from that.
If you want to save money, know that the dairy, certain meats, packaged foods (including beverages) aisles will tend to drain you very quickly. If you are trying to save some more money at the store, you may want to limit these foods. Also, make sure to focus on your meals, not snack items. Purchase more whole foods and less packaged products (you will find that it is healthier anyway!).
I know these are trying times for everyone and I hope you all stay healthy and optimistic. I trust this is a time when you value even more the truly important things in life.
Maybe, with all the extra time at home, you can enjoy each meal and savor blessings that abound and last.
– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and owns a nutrition counseling business called The Pantry Lab LLC. She lives in the Lebanon area with her husband and toddler. Find her at thepantrylab.com or visit her Facebook page by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.”